Each year, the human rights watchdog Freedom House surveys all 193 countries in the world, plus 15 select territories, and assesses the state of freedom in each.
During 2007, Freedom House determined that 90 countries (47 per cent) were free. Their governments respected "a broad array of basic human rights and political freedoms." This is good news. Since these countries also represent nearly one-half of the world's population, that means we are approaching the day when a majority of Earth's inhabitants live free.
Since 1977, the number of free countries has doubled. Another 60 countries (31 per cent) were "partly free." While there were "some abridgements of basic rights and weak enforcement of the rule of law" in these countries, political dissent was mostly permitted, elections were largely free and citizens could believe what they wished without much fear of imprisonment. (Sort of like Canada before human rights commissions began telling us what thoughts were and were not acceptable.)
But 43 countries and eight territories were "not free," according to Freedom House. In those states "citizens endure systematic and pervasive human rights violations." Freedom of expression and assembly are limited or non-existent. Critics of the government are imprisoned and occasionally executed. Of this Un-Free 43, Freedom House considers 17 countries and three territories to be "the worst of the worst."
"Within these (17) entities," Freedom House explains, "state control over daily life is pervasive and wide-ranging, independent organizations and political opposition are banned or suppressed, and fear of retribution for independent thought and action is part of daily life."
Furthermore, eight of these are considered "the world's most repressive regimes." These include Burma (Myanmar), where the junta is so repressive and paranoid it won't permit most international aid to enter its cyclone-ravaged land for fear aid workers will seduce the Burmese into revolt.
They value their power more than they value the lives of tens of thousands of their countrymen. The other seven most-repressive are Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Also included are two territories, Chechnya and Tibet.
Freedom House only places China in the next-to-worst group -- the nine countries and one territory that, while among the worse regimes on the planet, are not quite as bad as the eight "most-repressive."
China, then, is in a sort of outer-circle-of-hell group along with Belarus, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Zimbabwe.
The fascinating aspect for me is how many of Freedom House's "worst of the worst list" have also been elected by the UN to be voting members on its human rights council.
The UN human rights watchdog has 47 members. One, Cuba, is among the eight most-repressive governments in the world, as judged by Freedom House. And two more, China and Saudi Arabia, are among the bottom 17 countries.
In all, 10 members of the UN Human Rights Council -- more than one-fifth of its complement -- are from Freedom House's list of countries that have few if any freedoms.
On May 21, 15 of the 47 UNHRC seats will come up for election or re-election. Along with UN Watch, an organization that analyzes UN activities, statements and programs, Freedom House has declared that five of the 15 candidate countries -- Bahrain, Gabon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zambia -- are entirely unfit for membership because of their rights records. All but one of them (Bahrain) is already a member of the commission. This goes to show how useless the UN is at protecting human rights.
Of the 47 member states, UN Watch calculates that just 13 have pro-freedom voting records at council meetings. Canada leads the way with 19 freedom-defending votes on the 32 most important resolutions to come before UNHRC last year. The next-best records belong to France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia and the United Kingdom, all with 11 for 32 records.
Yet that leaves 34 UNHRC members with anti-freedom voting patterns, including Russia and China, which voted against expanding freedom 18 of 32 times and 19 of 32, respectively.
This was not supposed to happen. Three years ago when the corrupt, feckless UN Commission on Human Rights was replaced by the UNHRC, the world was reassured the council would never become hijacked by rights-abusing countries the way its predecessor had been.
But once again the UN has placed the foxes in charge of the henhouse.
In elections held last week at the UN, Islamic nations increased their hold in the Human Rights Council.
“The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) increased its grip on the UN Human Rights Council,” reported Eye on the UN, a watchdog group that monitors the democratic nature and adherence to its mandate of the international body. “By electing Pakistan, Bahrain, Burkina Faso and Gabon, the OIC won an increased majority of seats in the African and the Asian regional groups taken together, which account for over half of the Council membership.”
Eye on the UN Senior Editor Anne Bayefsky is not optimistic about the Human Rights Council, traditionally a group focused on condemning Israel, changing its ways. “The results will guarantee the Council will continue to use the mantra of human rights to undermine human rights protection and immunize human rights abusers,” Bayefsky said. “In its first two years, the domination of Islamic states has meant an attack on freedom of expression, an attempt to silence non-governmental organizations, and a pre-occupation on Israel to the exclusion of gross human rights violations the world over.”
The election reduced the number of free democracies on the council overall. “Before today, 49% Council members were ranked fully free by Freedom House statistics, but the election of Bahrain, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Gabon and Zambia, means that only 22 of 47 of Council members are now fully free democratic states,” Bayefsky said. "Human rights abusers will therefore continue to dominate the UN's primary human rights body.”
The Council was created in 2006 to replace the UN Human Rights Commission, which had gained the reputation of being a front for anti-Israeli sentiment. According to the Eye on the UN report, however, the record of the new body includes: “Holding four special sessions on Israel and seven regular sessions on human rights covering all 192 UN members, eliminating human rights investigations on Cuba and Belarus, terminating behind-closed-door consideration of Iranian human rights abuses, and severely curtailing the investigation into abuses of freedom of expression. Furthermore, 60% of all Council resolutions and decisions critical of human rights protection in a specific state have been directed at Israel alone, while only four other UN states have been criticized at all.”
Eye on the UN praised the US for refraining from taking part in the council until it begins to be run fairly. "Clearly, the United States has made the right decision to stay off the Council and to refuse to lend it the credibility it does not deserve," Bayefsky said. "Congressional efforts to end U.S. funding for the Council are a move in the right direction."